The Ongoing Battle For Your Mind

Another in our occasional series of blogs in which we will revisit some of the articles that we have found most useful over the years. This week we are going to focus on Ries & Trout’s three 1972 Ad Age articles ‘The Positioning Era Cometh’; Positioning Cuts Through Chaos’ and How To Position Your Product’ and their subsequent 1981 book ‘The Battle for Your Mind’.

“I studied [‘The Battle for Your Mind’] as an undergraduate in the 1980s and the fact that it is one of the few books I can remember nearly 35 years later … both for its content and cover –iconic brands bursting out of a man’s head in glorious technicolour –  is a testament to its impact, and that it is still relevant today speaks to the importance of the message” Adam Riley, Founder, Decision Architects

Ries and Trout opened their 1972 articles with an observation that “[in today’s market] there are just too many products, too many companies [and] too much marketing ‘noise’. Yes, that was 1972 … (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose).

To succeed they argued a brand had to create and own ‘a position’ in the consumer’s mind and cited Wednesday April 7, 1971 as the day the marketing world changed. David Ogilvy had taken out a full-page ad in the New York Times to set out his new advertising philosophy and outlined 38 points that started with ‘the results of your campaign depend less on how we write advertising than on how your product is positioned’.

Ries and Trout charted the evolution from the 1950s product era to the 1960s image era to the 1970s positioning era – which addressed the challenges posed by the ‘new’ over-communicated to, media-blitzed, consumer. Their work described how brands should take or create a “position” in a prospective consumer’s mind … reflecting or addressing its own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of its competitors …vis-à-vis the needs of the consumer.

And while positioning begins with the product – the approach really talks to the relationship between the product and the consumer … and by ‘owning’ some space in the mind of the consumer – by being first or offering something unique or differentiated – a brand can make itself heard above the clamor for attention – in their words – wheedling its way into the collective subconscious.

Ries and Trout laid out ‘How To Position Your Product’ with six questions …

  1. What position do we own? The answer is in the marketplace
  2. What position do we want? Select a position that has longevity
  3. Who must we ‘out-gun’? Avoid a confrontation with market leaders

“You can’t compete head-on against a company that has a strong position. You can go around, under or over, but never head-on”

  1. Do we have enough money (to achieve our objective)?
  2. Can we stick it out (in the face of pressure to change / compromise)
  3. Does what we are saying about ourselves match our position?

Its then easy to see the DNA of these questions in the ‘choices cascade’ set out by Monitor Alumni, Roger Martin, and P&G CEO (President & Chairman), A.G. Lafley, in their 2013 book ‘Playing to Win’ … the ‘where to play’, and ‘how to win’ questions culminate in a positioning – whether you call it a ‘benefit edge’ or a USP … it is a statement of position and is at the core of our growth methodology.

Just re-reading the 1972 articles you get both a fascinating insight into the marketing environment of 50 years ago, but also a sense of how relevant these articles are to contemporary marketing practice.

“For anybody interested in the psychology of consumer behaviour, Ries and Trout’s work really made the marketing discipline a lot more interesting, and as a student in the 80s their book really ignited my interest in marketing strategy and insight … what we used to call market research!” Adam Riley, Founder, Decision Architects

NPS and the Customer Satisfaction Jigsaw

Since it was first introduced by Fred Reichheld in 2003 (“The One Number You Need to Grow”, Harvard Business Review) to help measure customer satisfaction … the Net Promoter Score (NPS) has grown to become a crucial tool in the marketer’s arsenal.

The reason that NPS has been so successful and, in many ways become the go to customer satisfaction benchmark, is its simplicity – the ease and speed with which it can be asked. This means that it can be asked more regularly, limit the time that customers need to spend providing feedback, (because as much as we would like them to, not everyone wants to take part in a 20 minute survey once a month!), and it does not require any kind of math degree or statistical tool to analyse.

While many companies, big and small, use NPS as a performance index to evaluate the state of their brand, it is not without its critics for whom it is not specific enough, relied on too heavily by companies and difficult to translate into action. Used properly it can be a helpful metric, but there are a few noticeable caveats which, to garner maximum value from any customer satisfaction program need to be understood and accounted for.

So what should marketers be doing when implementing customer satisfaction to ensure maximum value?

 A key starting point is to create a customer interaction plan. Engagement with the right audiences at the right times during the customer journey, as well as at the right frequency to obtain an accurate read on customer sentiment is crucial. Mapping and understating the key stages of this process will enable us to see where we are doing well and where there is the most room for improvement.

To harness the full power of NPS we then need to link up the scores provided with any other information that we hold on customers. This may not always be possible, but a well managed CRM system can enable us to dive into satisfaction scores much more deeply, looking at where the brand is performing well and how we are performing within key segments, cohorts or demographics. Another key benefit of this approach is that we can link satisfaction scores to other key business metrics allowing us to assess the tangible value that an increase (or decrease) in satisfaction score might bring.

We need to look at how we can ‘move the bar’ and increase scores, a point at which many a marketer we have spoken to have found challenging. Beyond purely looking at scores by stage of the customer journey this is the point at which text responses can provide real additional value. By focusing these on what the company could be doing better for all customers (rather than a traditional and not always that useful ‘Why did you give this score?’) we can look to explore key themes for improvement among both promoters and detractors of the brand. Many companies with successful customer satisfaction programs will also take the opportunity at this stage to engage directly with customers to understand their scores, and this can add an additional layer of value by tapping further into the voice of the consumer.

Finally, and arguably the most crucial stage of the process is feeding these responses back into the business, to create a Satisfaction Cycle that empowers the broader business to make tactical changes and improvements to products and services based on 4 key elements:

  • Which improvements are we able to make?
  • Which audiences would benefit most from these changes?
  • How valuable are they to us as a business? (linked to key business metrics)
  • What can we do in the short term and what are longer term goals

So is this ‘The One Number You Need to Grow’? That is certainly up for debate. To implement growth plans, any business needs much more information than the NPS on its own provides. It is no golden goose and gives us only a point in time satisfaction score. To harness the power that a well-formed customer satisfaction program can bring we must use it in the right way as part of a range of tools that can measure, identify and most importantly enable us to improve the customer journey. Knowing that customers would recommend our brand is great, but knowing what we can do if they don’t and how to improve the scores across key audiences is where NPS can deliver its true value

In praise of the ‘Diffusion of Innovation’

Another in our occasional series of blogs in which we will revisit some of the articles that we have found most useful over the years … these are the articles that can always be found on desks in the Decision Architects office. This week we are looking at Everett Rogers’ 1962 work on Diffusion of Innovations (and yes, it’s a book not an article).

“This model provides an intuitively simple lens through which we can look at how consumers approach any sort of NPD – it is not without its critics but it is a useful short-hand which we often apply to (say) a segmentation framework to talk to the propensity of different segments to try or adopt a new product or service …. be that a new delivery format for hot drinks, a new insurance concept or some form of health tech” James Larkin, Decision Architects

The foundations of this now ubiquitous framework are interesting. Rogers’ 1962 book was based on work he had done some years earlier at Iowa State University with Joe Bohlen and George Beal. Their ‘diffusion model’ was focused solely on agricultural markets and tracked farmers purchase of seed corn. It was Iowa, and Rogers was professor of rural sociology!

The diffusion model’s signature bell curve identified

Innovators:             Owned larger farms, were more educated and prosperous and were more open to risk

Early Adopters:      Younger and although more educated were less prosperous but tended to be community leaders

Early Majority:       More conservative but still open to new ideas – active in their community and someone who could influence others

Late Majority:        Older, conservative, less educated and less socially active

Laggards:               Oldest, least educated, very conservative. Owned small farms with little capital

Between 1957 and 1962 Rogers’ expanded the model to describe how new technology or new ideas (not just seed corn) spread across society, but whilst Rogers initial work assumed that technology adoption would spread relatively organically across a population in practice there are barriers that can derail mainstream adoption before it has begun. The expansion to this frame discussed in Geoffrey More’s 1991 book ‘Crossing the Chasm’ highlighted a critical barrier to widespread adoption. This Chasm exists between the early adopter and early majority phases of the framework and to successfully navigate requires an understanding of the personality types that form the 5 fundamental building blocks of the model.

Innovators are happy to take a risk and try out products and services that may be untested or ‘buggy’. They look at the potential, do not expect things to be perfect and are happy to work with companies to improve initial offerings, a fertile testing ground for new technology. Early adopters in contrast are more tactical in their adoption. They want to be at the forefront of new technology but will have conducted their own research to evaluate the likelihood that the product will offer them tangible value. They are also more fickle, and are more likely to leave a product or service that is not living up to what was promised creating a potential void between them and the early majority.

Once we start to look at the early majority and beyond there is marked shift towards using something that ‘just works’. They are less interested in something new or shiny but, as the Ronseal advert would put it, something that ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’.

Seth Godin put it well in his 2019 blog when he said:

“Moore’s Crossing the Chasm helped marketers see that while innovation was the tool to reach the small group of early adopters and opinion leaders, it was insufficient to reach the masses. Because the masses don’t want something that’s new, they want something that works, something that others are using, something that actually solves their productivity and community problems.”

At its basic level the innovation adoption curve is a model that can be used to critically assess the appetite to adopt something new within a particular audience (be that segment, cohort or among a more general population). This provides us with a crucial framework element addressing the ‘where to play’ question … which we talk about so often with our clients and to enable the prioritisation of resources where they will have the biggest impact on growth and revenue

To go beyond the innovator and early adoption phases, products and services must deliver on their early promise, be built around customer needs improving on what went before. Getting there first can be a huge commercial advantage but failing to understand your audience and adapt accordingly can be the difference between wide-scale adoption and, at best, obscure appeal.


Why ‘new normal’ will look a lot like ‘old normal’

Since March my mailbox has been inundated with new surveys, trackers, consumer trend evaluations, and ‘thought pieces’ on the ‘new normal’. The world we live in from this point on will look nothing like the world we have known … so says their collected wisdom! If one was a cynic, one might argue that sowing doubt and uncertainty about the future reinforces the need to spend budget on consumer insight at a time when client businesses are looking to conserve cash and agencies are feeling the pinch – and this is my business as well, so I am not going to argue with the importance of maintaining  ‘sensors in the ground’!

But if you believe all that you read we are facing a foreign landscape with consumer behaviour turned on its head! But with some trepidation … can I be the small voice in the crowd that says actually I believe that the future is going to look much more like the past than many would have us think.

Now I will caveat that with the future when viewed from the pre-Covid world was going to look different (that’s just a truism) … the migration from the high street to the virtual street perhaps being the most notable trend – and the pandemic has moved this process on (if for no other reason than such a precipitous fall in revenue would be difficult for any business to cope with especially those with a poor online presence).

Perceived wisdom is that the pandemic moved digital migration forward 5 years … as people have been forced to shop online, socialise with friends and family members online, to bank online, see their doctor online etc. And some of these behaviours are here to stay as sub-optimal customer experiences in a pre-pandemic world can now be seen as such by a wider group of consumers – who really wants to queue for 20 minutes in a bank branch or sit next to (other) sick people in a doctor’s waiting room. OK, some people will, but broadly speaking the pandemic has shown those of us who are not innovators and early adopters a better way in some areas.

However, the ‘new normal’ is not actually ‘normal’ and will meet the headwinds of behavioural inertia or the tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged. The majority of us will go back to an office, and probably 5 days a week. We will start shopping in stores again – because we like physical (as opposed to virtual) shopping, and so the home will become less of (not more of)  “a multi-functional hub, a place where people live, work, learn, shop, and play” (‘Re-imagining marketing in the next normal’ McKinsey, July 2020). We will want to travel again as soon as possible – the ‘staycation’ was fine, but we won’t want to make a habit of it, and our new found sense of ‘community’ will wane when the pressures and time requirements of everyday life kick back in.

I am not saying that there won’t be any change and I am not just sticking my head in the sand and hoping the current crisis would just go away. But consumer behaviour is akin to an elastic band … Covid-19 has pulled it in all sorts of different directions, but fundamentally it wants to ‘ping back’. When we have a few years post pandemic perspective, I suspect covid-19 will be seen to have caused a mild bump in the overall evolution of consumer behaviour … there won’t be a ‘new normal’ that looks very different from the ‘old normal’.

Katy Milkman – a behavioural scientist at Wharton was reported in The Atlantic as saying that new habits are more likely to stick if they are accompanied by “repeated rewards”. So if the threat of the virus is neutralised the average person will go back to a routine and at the moment the pandemic looms large because its our everything. While there will be some behavioural stickiness – its easy to overestimate the degree to which future actions will be shaped by current circumstances.



In praise of ‘Marketing Myopia’

In this occasional series of blogs we will revisit some of the articles that we have found most useful over the years … these are the articles that can always be found on desks in the Decision Architects office. The first of these is Marketing Myopia, published in the Harvard Business Review in 1960, chosen by Adam Riley.

“I love this article … it talks to the ‘where to play’ and ‘how to win’ calculations that we have at the heart of our work … and I reference it time and time again. And when we use examples of obsolescence … Kodak, Nokia, Blackberry etc etc. you can see in their downfall a failure to heed the lessons of Marketing Myopia. Levitt was one of the giants of our trade”

In 1960 Theodore Levitt … economist, Harvard Business School professor and editor of the Harvard Business Review, published ‘Marketing Myopia’ and laid the foundations for what we have come to know as the modern marketing approach. Levitt, one of the architects of our profession, popularized phrases such as globalization and corporate purpose (rather than merely making money, it is to create and keep a customer). The core tenet of his ‘Marketing Myopia’ article is still at the heart of any good marketing planning process or submission. In this article Levitt asked the simple but profound question … “what business are you in?”

He famously gave us the ‘buggy whips’ illustration…

“If a buggy whip manufacturer defined its business as the “transportation starter business”, they might have been able to make the creative leap necessary to move into the automobile business when technological change demanded it”.

Levitt argued that most organisations have a vision of their market that is too limited – constricted by a very a narrow understanding of what business they are in. He challenged businesses to re-examine their vision and objectives; and this call to redefine markets from a wider perspective resonated because it was practical and pragmatic. Organisations found that they had been missing opportunities to evolve which were plain to see once they adopted the wider view.

Markets are complex systems. The ability to successfully define, and to some extent ‘shape’, the market you compete in today – and will compete in tomorrow –  is the foundation of good marketing. It is critical first step to maximizing business opportunities and identifying those competitive threats that may imperil the long term prospects of the business – or change the rules of the game to make its products or services irrelevant.

Senior management must ask, and marketers must be able to answer, the question … as a business, ‘where should we play’? This means defining the market in which we will compete – and being able to give size, scope, growth rates, competitive landscape, key drivers and barriers to success within it, as well as an appreciation of customers needs today – which are being fulfilled -and those unmet needs which may shape the definition of the market tomorrow. Market definition is not the same as ‘segmentation’ – but it is a necessary pre-cursor

When identifying ‘where to play’, marketers must address how to redefine our market to create a larger opportunity, or one which we are better positioned than the competition to take advantage of? How could our competitors reshape the market to their advantage and what impact would this have on us? And how will external trends – be they political, technological, social, economic etc. – reshape the market and affect our success? Many marketing questions then flow from this market definition – what attractive customer segments exist, how do we develop and deploy our brands against attractive market opportunities, what capabilities do we have today that give us competitive advantage, and what capabilities will we need tomorrow to sustain this.

At the time of his death in 2006, Levitt (alongside Peter Drucker) was the most published author in the history of the Harvard Business Review, and in a interview he gave about his published work, he said  “In the last 20 years, I’ve never published anything without at least five serious rewrites. I’ve got deep rewrites up to 12. It’s not to change the substance so much; it’s to change the pace, the sound, the sense of making progress – even the physical appearance of it. Why should you make customers go through the torture chamber? I want them to say, ‘Aha!’

Expanding your target market – How Greggs harnessed the power of the vegan to expand their consumer base

greggs sausage roll

Among the depressing outlook on the British High Street is a success story that took everyone by surprise. Greggs, the 80-year-old baking chain has hit reset, shaken up their offering and continue to buck all trends.

There’s a lot to be learned from this high street staple, and it starts with an unlikely lesson inspired by the humble sausage roll.

Veganism is on the rise and is a greater part of the collective consciousness of the nation than ever

Concern mounts over global warming, while consumers as a whole have generally become more conscious of their own health and the impact their choices have on the environment and animals. Put together, many have turned to plant power – either fully or partially. One in three people now purchase plant-based milk, while more than a quarter of all evening meals in the UK are vegan or vegetarian. In response, more and more brands and businesses are getting on board with this shift – there’s McDonald’s vegan-friendly happy meals, restaurant chain TGIF’s bleeding vegan burgers, and even Ben & Jerry’s that now offer a completely dairy-free ice cream range. Beyond Meat Inc., the maker of the Beyond Burger, which is sold at Whole Foods and TGIF, just raised nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to grow its line of plant-based meats valuing the company at almost $1.5 billion.

Among them all, the clear run-away success of 2019 is an accolade reserved for Greggs…

A vegan sausage roll – what could be simpler?

And yet this product has just contributed toward an almighty jump in sales that have surged by 9.6% in the seven weeks to 16 February 2019. Social platforms were set ablaze, mainstream media coverage included dinnertime news and all major newspapers. So popular have they been that the baking stalwart has struggled to keep up.

The launch wasn’t without its issues – namely stores that lacked the right green handled tongs to avoid cross-contamination. And of course, this gigantic jump wasn’t solely down to Greggs’ vegan sausage role; it was part of a long succession of changes that had taken place since Roger Whiteside took up the role of Greggs CEO in 2013 (previous to which there were slumping sales and freefalling pre-tax profits).

After taking up the boardroom baton, Whiteside set about repositioning Greggs. But instead of taking aim at an entirely different target, he focused on serving their existing customers better by moving away from being a baker and towards food-to-go…

“People were sceptical and said we would lose our heritage if we changed [from a baker], but we could see from consumer insight that over 80% of visits were for food-on-the-go. It wasn’t as if we had to convert our customers, we just had to do a better job of serving them”.

–        Roger Whiteside – CEO of Greggs

As for the vegan sausage roll, which arguably did target a different customer group, the idea didn’t come from Greggs themselves, but from an unserved target market. PETA, the animal rights group, set up a petition for a vegan-friendly version of Greggs’ meaty sausage roll, which attracted 20,000 signatories. And contrary to popular conceptions, the roll was actually the second addition to the Greggs’ line up to sate the appetite of hungry vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians. The first was the Mexican Bean Wrap, which launched in 2018. So blown away were vegans with the bean wrap, that it won the PETA Vegan Food Award.

Not only has the vegan sausage roll brought in new customers, it has brought Greggs right into the heart of public discussion, garnering significant attention and publicity. They say that ‘any publicity is good publicity’ – whether this is true or not can be debated, but for Greggs it doesn’t matter. The publicity they have garnered has been overwhelmingly positive and there’s no doubt that this has been a successful step in Greggs’ attempt to re-position their brand, whilst continuing to deliver what their existing customer base wants.

‘To sleep, perchance to dream’ … a potentially big impact on an SMEs bottom line

‘To sleep, perchance to dream’ … a potentially big impact on an SMEs bottom line

A few weeks ago we wrote an article on employer provided benefits (“EPBs”) – and over the past year we have explored the role of EPBs in SMEs (apologies for the initialism). So, this statistic caught our attention.

A Harvard University study[1] found that in the US, insomnia is the root cause of the loss of 11.3 days’ worth of productivity per person per year.

The number of people sleeping less than the recommended level is on the rise – as a result of a range of factors including our modern 24/7 society, electronic media use and the ‘always on’ work culture. Not only is a lack of sleep associated with a range of negative lifestyle, social and health issues that result in absenteeism but also a lack of productivity while at work – so called presenteeism (not our word)

A 2016 Rand Corporation study[2] estimated that the UK loses around 200,000 working days a year due to sleep deprivation (which equates to a £40bn hit to the UK economy). Working the Harvard numbers through would actually give us c. 375,000 lost days. The Rand report noted that “if those who sleep under 6 hours a night can increase their sleep to between 6 and 7 hours – this could add £24bn to the UK economy”.

Trying to calibrate these different studies is something of data headache – so best we just summarise it as a big expensive issue calling out to be addressed. Employers are beginning to recognise the importance of sleep as well as their own role in fostering a healthy sleep culture.

“Eight hours of sleep makes a big difference for me, and I try hard to make that a priority. For me, that’s the needed amount to feel energized and excited” Jeff Bezos, reported in Thrive Global

“To perform in a way that is required by my current job, I need seven hours of sleep, every night” Cees ‘t Hart, president and CEO of Carlsberg Group, reported in Harvard Business Review

McKinsey found 70 per cent of the leaders it surveyed thought that sleep management should be taught in organisations, alongside time management and communication skills

“A growing awareness of the dangers of sleep deprivation on health – and therefore, its impact on insurance costs and worker productivity – is prompting companies to try and improve their employees rest … Goldman Sachs has brought in sleep experts, Johnson & Johnson offers a digital health coaching program for battling insomnia and Google [its always google!!!] hosts ‘sleeposium’ events” The Washington Post

But can SMEs afford this kind of enlightened self-interest? With our SME hat on, we wondered what the impact of this stat is for a typical SME (accepting that there isn’t a ‘typical’ SME – see our recent MRS Fin Serv Conference presentation ‘Stuck in the 70s! Why our understanding of the SME sector needs a reboot’).

Let’s assume that the UK experiences a similar level of lost productivity i.e. 11.3 days per annum, and then put that into context. For an SME with 20 employees … that’s 226 days per annum across the business lost to sleep related issues. A UK employee generates £283 of ‘GDP’ per day[3]. So, sleep related issues cost our SME ~£64,000 per annum in lost ‘productivity’.

An interesting segmentation that goes beyond elephants and donkeys – lessons from the US electorate

An interesting new report looking at the US political landscape was published this week (see the end of this article).
Why interesting? It’s a good example of a nice-looking segmentation – examining American public opinion through the lens of seven population segments. The report’s authors describe these segments as “America’s hidden tribes” – hidden because they have shared beliefs, values, and identities that shape the way they see the world, rather than visible external traits such as age, race or gender. By avoiding the use of demographic information or other observables – the authors contend – segments go beyond conventional categories and identify people’s most basic psychological differences.

The tribes identified are:

  • Progressive Activists: highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial.
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: highly engaged, uncompromising, patriotic.

“Essex man” was an example of a type of median voter that explained the electoral success of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980’s. The closely related “Mondeo man” was identified as the sort of voter the Labour Party needed to attract to win the election in 1997

Now there’s nothing new about political segmentation – whenever an election looms, someone produces a segmentation of the political landscape, and the media get over excited. In the UK this has famously resulted in Essex man, Mondeo man, Worcester Woman etc. All of these shed interesting insight on a phenomenon BUT, as with commercial segmentation, there is usually practical limitation on their application.

This latest US report cites its ultimate aim as “identifying the most effective interventions that can be applied on the ground to counter division and help build a renewed and more expansive sense of American national identity”. But how are these interventions supposed to happen? How do you intervene with the ‘Passive Liberal Tribe’? Put simply, how do you find them?

We’ve discussed before how the dissatisfaction with the outcomes of segmentation has risen, as the mix of effective marketing levers that an organisation has at its disposal has proliferated. The rise of direct-to-consumer, and the increasing importance of targeted communication and the use of databases has mean that the ability easily identify a segment (rather than relying on the customer to self-select) has become a crucial success factor.

The inability to effectively ‘target’ segments is at the crux of much of the dissatisfaction with segmentation. I have no doubt that this work on ‘tribes’ includes a complex algorithm to determine segment membership but these are difficult to action as the criteria for segment membership are complex and often difficult to replicate. How do you find the segments in the real world? While it is possible to profile these clusters after they have been created, as they have done with the ‘tribes’, often the results are less than clear cut.

This is less of an issue when you are using ‘above the line’ communications to communicate a political (or commercial) position, but increasingly organisations want to target their communication activity, undertake ‘direct-to-consumer’ advertising (for example) and locate these segments in their CRM database. An actionable segmentation allows us to better address strategic ‘where to play’ questions i.e. which voters (or customers) to focus effort on, their relative priority, and the opportunity they represent … as well as tactical ‘how to win’ questions i.e. what activities or messages are most likely to achieve our objectives in priority segments.

For those of us who don’t get to vote in US elections, all of this can be something of a spectator sport – but if you have a professional interest in segmentation and marketing frameworks – it raises interesting questions. While the ‘tribes’ segmentation is intrinsically interesting and insightful – too often in the commercial world we find that this type of analytical methodology limits the ability to identify “the most effective interventions that can be applied”.

Innovation doesn’t necessarily equate to disruption – a case study in a bag!

Innovation doesnt necessarily equate to disruption - a case study in a bag

Having just written a piece on ‘disruptors’ (READ HERE), I thought this FT article looked interesting …

A trolley-load of new luggage brands has appeared in recent years, trying to disrupt a staid market with promises of revolutionary ways to pack a bag

As someone who typically packs a bag once a week for some trip or another I wanted to find out what I had been missing and how someone was going to revolutionise this task for me … I hadn’t realised it had been such a chore. But more than 40 luggage entrepreneurs seeking crowd funding on Indiegogo and Kickstarter can’t be wrong,

What’s the big deal? Well it’s not down to looks … if you check out these innovators’ websites they seem to produce wheelie bags that look like … well wheelie bags. So what’s really different must be on the inside. Apparently really innovative bags now offer some combination of an inside light, a missing item reminder, open alert, wireless charger, global WiFi, GPS tracking, a camera, built-in digital scale, face ID and “a Morse code lock” … and (the ultimate in luggage accessories, and perhaps the definition of a true first world problem) a tiny vacuum motor to shrink undies into vacuum packs.

Disruptors want to make a radical difference – but the key is (as ever) to deliver the right solutions to the right consumers in the right way. A solution they value.

Is an inside light really truly disruptive? Would the ability to vacuum shrink underwear really change my travel experience? These innovations feel dangerously close to ‘gimmick’. If disruptors appear as a reaction to consumer dissatisfaction with the status quo, in sectors characterised by complacent incumbents, you have to ask yourself … is there really that level of dissatisfaction with one’s luggage?

‘Segments of One’ – myth or reality?

‘Segments of One’ – myth or reality?

How many segments is too many? At some point we always have this conversation. Clients usually find 4 too few and 12 too many (leave aside that it’s not about how many but rather how you prioritise). So the spectre of ‘segments of one’ leaves us scratching our heads – an existential crisis for those of us who get paid to package the market up into somewhere between 4 and 12 homogenous groups; and paralysing for clients who now have (pick a big number) a million segments of one. But is it? And what does ‘segments of one’ actually mean?

In trying to get our collective heads around ‘segments of one’ we keep coming back to the difference between segmentation and profiling – traditionally profiling leverages a mass of data to add flesh to the bones of a segmentation – the segmentation has distilled the complexity inherent in all markets down to something manageable. But, so the argument goes, the processing power of IT, and the ability for brands to now get much closer to their customers etc. etc. makes the segmentation step ‘redundant’ as we no longer need to distil complexity, but rather embrace it. This is the hyperpersonalization argument.

In a piece for ‘Think with Google’ Unilever’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Keith Weed, cited the mobile phone as the driving force behind an empowered consumer – who could disagree –  and that its now “driving a hyper segmentation revolution”, and Unilever to “a future where we will build brands in segments of one”.

So let’s think about this in terms of a company that makes things. If my business is making ‘things’ at scale – physical mass customisation or hyperpersonalization is very difficult to do. Scale is important – if I make high spec bicycles, I could customise these to individual taste, but I might make 10, 100, 1000, 5000 a year. What if I make 20million units of something? Whether we are trying to develop strategy or drive something like NPD – we still need to distil complexity into something manageable and useful. Of course Keith Weed isn’t suggesting (I think) that using hyper segmentation Unilever is going down a mass customisation route.

The reality is that we will still have between 4 and 12 segments to allow us to pragmatically manage the complexity and develop our product portfolio and core brand foundations BUT within those segments – data and the ability to now have a one-to-one dialogue with consumers will develop a unique brand experience. Not necessarily one that the brand owner controls but still we can see this one to one relationship as ‘segments of one’. So for a standardised mass market product we may develop individualised brand conversations but we are limited by the nature of the product and the way we go to market. Organisations like Unilever are (it would seem – I have no direct knowledge) looking to developed one-to-one relationships with their consumers – off the back of a mass market product offer. Is this based on profiling within an existing segmentation frame – sort of tactical hyper segmentation within a segmentation? So what is the ‘segment of one’? It is a question of both capability and practicality.

But what about those organisations whose products are intangible …. say Netflix or many financial services companies … companies that can be characterised as having a lot of data on each individual customer and the ability to reconfigure their product offer in an (effectively) infinite number of ways. So they can ‘just’ profile their customer and offer suitable, customised packages (enabled by technology) – they don’t need the intervening step of a consolidating segmentation. Right? Probably not. We are getting much better at trawling data for attitudinal and behavioural cues, and using this knowledge to inform marcoms and other interactions but, to inform strategy, I will bet these organisations are still using some kind of consolidating framework (anyone from NetFlix, please feel free to set me right). Managing complexity is expensive. To embrace complexity to the extent that segments of one would dictate, means redefining what we mean by ‘strategy’. If traditionally strategy has equated to ‘making choices’ – in this new world, the choices are no longer made by the organisation, but rather by the customer. This also assumes that the organisation is less resource constrained – presumably this is a function of technology.

Even as we get better at mining the increasing amounts of data available to us, there is still a long way to go in terms of maximising the value and utility to the customer of this kind of profiling. NetFlix’s ‘Top Picks For …’ seems to me to be little better than random choice – based on watching an episode of 70’s British sitcom Porridge, the recommendation that I might like to watch Top Gear would seem a tenuous link (to me … and that’s the whole point).